Scraping out a living in the ditches of Montezuma County

Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 3:18 PM
Allen and Martha Hammond in Canada about 1904, with their children, Norman, Edna, Leona, Ella, Mabel and Roy.
Martha Hammond, circa 1870.
Allen Hammond, circa 1870. He was married when he went west to Rico, and later returned to Canada.

Editor’s note: This is the second of two Looking Back columns about the Hammond brothers. Part 1 published on Aug. 3.By James Hammond

James, Allen and Matthew Hammond came from Quebec to Colorado. In 1879, Matthew and a friend, Joe Davis, got off the train at Alamosa and walked to Rico by way of Silverton. They had with them a little bedding, a few clothes and a small amount of grub.

On the advice of another man walking through, they bought a burro, an animal which was unknown to them under that name. That was almost all of their money. The man who sold it to them gave them a rope and a description of the animal they were to catch. It was in a field with three-wire fence about it. As they tried to catch it, the burro always went through the fence near a post. Joe Davis finally stood by the post and caught it as it came through.

They tied some stuff on it and took turns riding it until it played out. They sold it to another man for twenty-five dollars and continued on foot.

My brother Allen, our cousin John Hammond and I came to Rico in April 1880. We also walked from Alamosa, but our route was by way of Saguache, the Gunnison country, Montrose region and Ouray.

When we arrived in Rico, we heard flour had been fifty dollars a sack, but it was now twenty-five dollars. We bought a pie one day for two dollars and paid two dollars for a dozen eggs.

I got a job at chopping timber at four dollars and twenty-five cents a day. That was good wages for the time. There was a smelter, the first one in Rico, to be built, and the timber was for that.

The fall of 1880, Joe Davis, Matt and I put some hay up on the Meadows near Lizard Head. We untwisted new rope for twine and dug a hole in the ground to improvise a baler. We tramped the hay into the hole and tied it with twine into bales. We cut three tons of beaver grass and one ton of bunch grass and baled it. We received one hundred twenty-five dollars for the ton of bunch grass in Rico.

There was a big snow in October of 1880. The snow was six feet deep on the meadows. We made a sled to haul the hay on the top of the hill and from there packed it on mules, horses and burros into Rico. The deer followed the sled so closely that you could put a hand on them. We sold the hay in the late fall.

I took a little place on the Dolores River in 1883 and was there until I traded it for a horse, saddle, and hundred dollars in 1887. I spent the winter of 1884 there. It snowed and rained and stormed generally. There was forty feet of snowfall that year. A spruce tree leaning over the road along Scotch Creek was snowed in, although it was forty feet up. People ran short of food.

In 1885, twelve or thirteen Indians were killed on Beaver. It was uncalled-for. The cowboys just wanted ponies and blankets. The night herder of horses at Beaver got away and went down into the Montezuma Valley and met some other Indians. They were going to kill Wooleys’ and Simons’, but the chief would not let them. Doug Wooley had performed and made the Indians think he was crazy, and that saved him before the chief came along. The killing at Beaver was in the early morning, and that night the Indians killed Genthner for revenge. Genthner was killed before they met the chief and the other band. The night herder’s mother had been wounded at Beaver, and he got her as far as Bean Canyon, where she died.

When the Beaver trouble occurred, I was staying with Old Man Hammond, who was the father of Mrs. Sam Johnson. For fear of Indians, we slept out in the brush and willows at night. We took the pack horse and went to Mancos for provisions, and I decided to get some sleep in the cabin. But I got worried about Indians and moved back out into the brush.

That same year, Joe Davis and I were cutting logs for a barn on the Ross Thomas place up the Dolores. We sat down to rest on some logs and were talking when some Indians came along. The Indians were armed and on horseback. They told us they were heap hungry. We had little provisions, so we told them we lived below at what was really the Hess cabin. Most of them went away after they got our tobacco. I was always on friendly terms with the Indians. I used to give them food, and they never bothered me or took anything that belonged to me. I never carried a gun even in the first years in the country and did not even own a gun, for it was my custom to remain on friendly terms with neighbors as well as with the Indians.

Old Man Sheek took up what is now the Jim Hammond place and put in the first ditch built on the river.

I worked on the Highline Ditch, the Tunnel Ditch and the Number Two Ditch. A friend and I had teams and went down there and were hired to scrape at two dollars a day and fend for ourselves. We got some hay and were to get more. The very day we were turned off from the scraping job, there came the next hay.

Billy May was a surveyor who was paid by the government in land. He got what is now the Bill Ritter ranch and the land where McPhee is now. George, Dick and Billy May lived on the Dolores River. They were unmarried. Hinton May, another brother, was here for a time and lived on the place in the Valley.

After working on the ditch, I went into the cattle business in 1893 and remained in it until 1903.

When I sold my cattle, I came over and got the ranch here on the Dolores River, where we have lived ever since. My brother, Allen, was married when he came west. Allen worked in Rico until 1890, then went back to Canada and remained for thirteen years. He came back here and bought a place at Lebanon and remained there until he died in 1922.

My brother Matt bought the “Matt Hammond place” here on the Dolores River about thirty years ago. Before that he lived near present McPhee. We all have children living in the area.

Article and photos courtesy of Chuck Hammond, grandson of Allen Hammond. For corrections, questions or comments please contact June Head, historian of Montezuma County Historical Society at (970) 565-3880.